We’ve been to Devbagh a few times already, so we knew exactly what to expect on this trip… or so we thought. You know it’s never that simple, right?
We reached the bus stop with about 5 minutes to spare. By our standards, that’s about 20 minutes late. It was past the kids’ bedtime and the commute to the bus stop had involved auto-hopping interspersed with short(ish) walks, so the kids were end-tethered by the time we reached. (By the way, I hadn’t realized that autos in Bangalore had become so completely unusable. It’s not like they go where you want them to; it’s more like a bus – if it’s going in roughly the direction you want, you hop on; then you reach the farthest common point and get off and look for another fellow willing to go in roughly the direction you want. And as for charging by the meter – forget it! Arrrrrrrrgh! Thank god I very rarely have to use a $&%(*#@$ auto nowadays.)
The bus was supposed to start at 9 p.m., so obviously it got rolling only around 10. Meanwhile I took two grumpy girls to the toilet (in the bus operator’s office, thankfully; the option was, of course, by the side of the road) and tried my best to get them to sleep. It’s been an extremely long time since either of us (adults) went by sleeper bus and we’d seriously overestimated the size of the berths. Each berth is so narrow that only a reasonable sized person can fit and then only if they lie ramrod straight without bending limb or hair. And two adults would have to lie so close together on adjacent berths that being side-by-side with anyone other than your normal sleeping partner would be unthinkable! I’d thought that since we had two berths side-by-side, all four of us would squeeze in somehow, but I was wrong. Amit could have occupied a double berth on his own and still all his appendages would have been squashed into strange shapes and places; and the kids and I would have been approximately comfortable with a double berth to ourselves. In other words, we had to make do with exactly half the minimum space we really needed. We made do – I and the girls put our heads on the plastic “pillows,”, while Amit turned himself upside down and put his head where my feet were. This way, he had to contend with my smelly feet in his face, while I had to struggle to snake my legs through a tangle of kids’ limbs and straps from the camera bag that lay at the foot of my allocated space, and then try to avoid kicking him in the face. The girls’ feet were also ideally poised to kick him… where it hurts the most… but that’s the price of being a father anyway.
Kids, mercifully, can sleep through anything, so at least they got a good night’s sleep. Amit stuck his endless legs out of the berth and rested them on something that covered either the engine (rear-mounted; we were right at the back of the bus) or the air-con unit of the bus – it was hot like an oven! Mrini sweated with her head next to this box, while Tara and I curled up under the sheet with the air-con blasting on top of us.
In short, it was “interesting”.
It became more interesting as the drive progressed. At some point at night, we started on the ghats section of the drive. As the driver threw his vehicle around every curve, we fishtailed around in the back like flies on the tail of some really angry whale. By 6 a.m. we were all awake. The ghats were lush and green outside the window, but inside, Tara was the first to feel the effects of the drive. Empty-stomach as we were, the effects were limited, but she was a sorry sight all the same. Thankfully, we stopped for breakfast soon after. None of us ate, but we used the toilet “facilities” (5 bucks a go and nothing to show for it!). Soon after we got back in the bus, despite my efforts at distracting them with a story, Tara was back to feeling sick. Much to my surprise, I ended up retching as well! This never happens to me! Mrini was fine until the last ten minutes of the drive – then we were greeted with the spectacle of both girls retching simultaneously into the same plastic bag! Not the prettiest of sights…
And in all this, Amit, the one who can be counted on to be sick in any sort of long drive, was completely unaffected!
Once we got off the bus, things were better. We all had a hearty breakfast (though at first the sight of food still made Tara sick, but she recovered soon enough) at the usual place. I was a little worried about the impact the impending boat ride would have on our nicely-fed bellies, but the good thing about boats of this type is that you can be sick over the side and nobody has to clean up! (And what is a little puke compared to the vast quantities of oil (and waste) that we humans regularly pump into the sea?)
Amit went to locate the JLR office – it was in a slightly different location than it had been on our last few times. He found out that the houseboat would only arrive at 11.30. I had, as usual, been quite irresponsible while doing the booking and had completely ignored the need for vital information, happy with my own assumptions about what the houseboat would be like. We went back to the office after breakfast and found out a little more about the houseboat. It would collect us at 11.30 and take us 25 km out to sea. The next day it would bring us back. Not quite what I’d expected – I’d expected something moored a stone’s throw offshore, so that we could come and go as we pleased. I’d thought we’d linger on the beach during the day, have our meals in the Gol Ghar (in this instance, it refers to their dining room) and retire to the houseboat for the night. Being stuck on it for 24 hours 25 km out at sea with 2 little kids and nothing to do suddenly didn’t look like such a good idea. When they offered to swap our houseboat reservation for a cottage on the island, we jumped at it. What – give the kids an opportunity to drown themselves in the sea or cover themselves in sand? Sand, obviously. As long as they can get themselves dirty, kids are happy! And on the beach, at least we don’t have to worry about them falling into the sea!
And so, around 10.30, after an uneventful 20-minute crossing by a small motorboat, we were on the island, walking through the pine trees to the cottages.
Wait – pine trees? Here? I’ve always wondered about this – the trees do look like conifers, they come complete with thousands of needles, peeling bark, and tiny, really minuscule pine cones. So they must be pine trees, even though I always thought pine trees were to be found only in high latitudes or altitudes. They lend a very soft and romantic atmosphere to the island, providing plenty of shade, with sunlight filtering through, the ground covered in a thick layer of dry, brown needles, yet never the dense suffocation of thick, dark, heavy trees and a lot of undergrowth.
One-and-a-half days passed pleasantly enough. The kids, on Mrini’s suggestion, had brought their sand toys. (She heard “beach” and I asked Amit what toys we should carry for them, and she had the answer. How she even knew, considering the last time she saw a beach was Lakshadweep a year-and-a-half ago, I don’t know, but she had absolutely the right idea.) They spent ages cooking up stuff with sand, pine needles, and sand toy utensils, and getting themselves – and, by extension, us – covered in sand in the process. Then they upturned some moulded plastic beach beds and used them as slides. We downed a bottle of beer. Everyone retired to the air-conditioned comfort of the cottage for the afternoon, and in the evening, we went out on to the beach again, to entice the kids into the water. Mrini was game for a bit of experimenting, though she ran away whenever the water touched her feet; Tara (typically?) watched from a safe distance, with a skeptical expression, and reverted to playing in the sand. Amit and I took turns in the water for about 15 minutes each. By this time it was almost 7, so I decided to walk back to the cottage with the kids and get the three of us cleaned up, leaving Amit to enjoy the water for a few minutes longer.
Excellent plan, but for the dog.
Last time we were at Devbagh, there were no dogs. But then, there were no houseboats either. Given that houseboats have been on offer for three years, or so we were told, it must have been more than three years since our last visit. Time enough for the dogs to arrive.
I’d walked a fair distance towards the cottage when I heard Amit shouting. I turned around just in time to see a dog grab his clothes from the beach towel and make off at top speed. I dropped everything and gave chase – but running across a sandy beach clad in a wet swimsuit is not really my thing. Actually, let me be honest – running is not my thing; the rest of it is very ok. Anyway, the dog, encouraged by his pack of friends and allies, made straight for the woods and was gone long before I got within anything more than shouting distance.
It was Amit’s turn. Like a cross between Venus rising from the sea and a dripping wet Tarzan the Ape Man, he followed the dog into the trees at an impressive sprint. He had kept a very precious mobile phone in the pocket of his shorts; losing it was not an option.
Luckily, the dog had only made off with his T-shirt. True, it was a Nike T-shirt, but it was one Roger (Federer, must I add?) had sported a couple of years ago, so it was definitely time for an upgrade to the current season’s look. And at any rate, the mobile phone was safe.
The next day passed in an equally relaxed way, though we had to vacate our comfy cottage in exchange for a tattered tent with no attached toilet. We’d reserved the cottage for one night, and the second half day package included lunch, a tent, and a common toilet. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t too bad. The beach was just as good. We went for a long walk in the morning before breakfast. The tide was out, so there was an immense flat area that had been underwater but now was only slightly wet. We went out onto the large, flat area and watched fishermen extract fish from their nets before casting the nets in the water and pulling them out again. Mrini and Tara were brave enough to pick up a couple of fishes by the tail – which was more than I could do!
By the time we started to walk back, the water had crept in behind us, and we had to wade in upto mid-thigh level to reach the beach. It was mid-stomach level for the kids. Tara was a little worried by it, but Mrini walked through it happily, holding Amit’s hand and asking for more!
After breakfast, Amit went for a full-body massage, while I kept an eye on the kids. After another bottle of beer was finished, I washed the kids’ hair under an open, outdoor shower. They had their swimsuits on, so it was quite decent and well worth a video. It was the first time ever that they actually enjoyed a shower.
Around 5 p.m., we took the boat back to mainland and then shared an auto for the short ride down the highway to Karwar town. This was when things started to get really interesting.
First, it turned out that our bus back to Bangalore started back not at 8 pm. as I’d been led to expect by the information on the website, but at 10 p.m. So now being 6 p.m., we had a whole four hours to kill, with two little kids in tow. Somewhat to Amit’s disappointment, I insisted that we find a room. Keeping the girls up that much past their bedtime just didn’t seem like a good idea to me. So we found a crummy room with a fan that gave no air, a grainy TV, grimy walls, and clean but torn bedsheets, where we camped for the rest of the evening. The kids jumped on the beds, we browsed TV, we all went out for an early dinner, and then the kids fell asleep, we read, and outside the half-open window, a deluge started.
It was still raining when we left the room at 9.40. Amit waited to get some refund from reception, while I went on ahead (with some vague idea of holding the bus, should it show any inclination to make a timely start). We got wet, the sleeping kids got wet, and, in the pitch darkness, we kind of lost our way. Luckily, though, Amit caught up with me, because I was beginning to feel jittery out there in the dark on my own – Karwar is the kind of town that is shut up tight by 9 p.m.
It was 10.00 p.m. Amit called the bus shop – the bus would leave in 5 minutes. “Yes, ok, hold on, we’re on our way,” said Amit, being desperately polite, “by the way, just where exactly did you say the bus would be?”
A couple of minutes later, we saw it. With a mixture of rain and sweat pouring down us, we climbed on board to find…
…that our seats were…
Very firmly occupied, by a fat old couple who claimed to be senior citizens incapable of sleeping on the upper bunk.
It took half an hour and a good deal of screaming on my part to get the situation sorted out. The fat old couple remained as firmly seated as though they’d grown roots, so an unfortunate young couple were unceremoniously evicted from their berths and moved to an upper berth, so that we could get a lower berth. At last, frustrated, steaming, sweating, swearing, and trying to soothe two sleepy children we crammed ourselves into our double berth and the bus started rolling.
The bus was supposed to reach Bangalore by 8 a.m. – but the two hour delay in its starting time, the half hour hiatus as we fought for our seats, and the inevitable puncture stop along with the tyre-repair stop combined to ensure that at 8 a.m. we were not anywhere close to Bangalore. For the next three hours, we sat and counted the minutes and fretted and sweated as we crawled into the city and then crawled through the traffic around Yeshwanthpur and all the way to Windsor Manor.
We were both worried because it was 11 a.m. on a Monday morning and we had lots and lots of WORK to do! And now that we were so extremely late, we still had the onerous tasks of getting the kids ready for daycare, getting some lunch organized for them, getting ourselves cleaned up, and somehow getting to office, before lunch if possible. In the end, I managed it all and even managed to send out the documents in time for the end-of-day release… but I would have been happier with those three hours in hand.
And the kids? Were wonderful! They sat five long hours in the sleeper bus after they woke up. They talked, they sang, they got bored, sucked their thumbs and threatened to fall asleep, demanded food and demanded water, but… they didn’t fuss at all. No whining no fighting no driving us up the window (there wasn’t a wall). When they got home, they straightaway got to “work” with their toys, and, apart from occasionally fingering my laptop, didn’t cause any trouble at all. I dropped them at daycare at 1 p.m. and their teacher there said they ate and slept without any fuss and she’d never have guessed there had been anything different (tiring!) about their day.
I know I’m a disgustingly proud mama, but honestly, tell me: aren’t they just the bestest?